7:15 at the start line: So here I am, 6 months of preparation and several injuries later, running my first Marathon. Everything had been perfect this morning: had a relatively good sleep, was able to take some food and water and best of all did not seem to need bathroom every 5 minutes. Yeah!
When I got to the section B start line, it was just 5 minutes before the race started. My running mate Keith told me to just jump the fence and sure enough that looked easy.
“Question: how tall is Keith? Oh right, he is 6 foot but I am only 5’1’’. Do I look stupid getting stuck on the fence?! “
I managed to get off the fence, carefully not to kick anyone in the crowd. Spent the next five minutes hoping the pain between my legs did not mean I got a bruise before the race even started!
7:20 at the start line: THE RACE IS ON!!!! Moving slowly to cross the line and I could feel I started to tear up.
“ Come on Juny, cry after you actually FINISH!”
1KM: Everything was beautiful. Glorious golden sun rising from the left. The air fresh and crisp. The 3:30 pacer with green balloon was just in front me. Then I felt the tightness on my left ribs. I could not possibly have a stitch at the beginning of the race?!!! The pain started to build up but was not serious. I did not slow down. Put my fingers on it and took a few deep breath. By the time my watch flashed the first 1K, it was gone. Thank god. 4’59, right on time. Well, this is only the first kilometre. 41.195 to go.
2KM: Someone called my name from behind. It was Lisa from my running club Rejoov Runner, led by the amazing coaches Greta and Chris Truscott. So nice to see fellow Rejoovers on the course. She was following the 3:30 pacer as well. We chatted a little and then I looked at my watch. I was running 4:45. I slowed down, Lisa pressed on.
Back to solitude. Actually that was bit dramatic, there were thousands of people around me!
5KM: Past the first water station. Although not thirsty at this time, I took a few sips of water. Of course being as clumsy as I was, “drinking” meant ”splashing water on my face and hoping to get a few drops at the end”. Checked my time, it only took a few seconds of my pace and I made it up in no time. So drinking water was not scary after all (I used to always have stitch after drinking water).
10KM: “Oh I love the crowd!! Can’t believe there are people along the road for the whole way! Love high fiving the kids! “
When the first one said “ Good Job Juny”, I was like “ how did they know my name” Then I realised my name was printed on my bib. Duh… Like the personal touch though. Don’t you like strangers yelling out ”You are a champion Juny”?
Ran passed a girl holding a sign said” Run like you stole something”. Then someone’s dog came out barking at us. Oh yeah it felt real….
Had my first gel at 9K. Was looking for a bin to dispose the packaging.
“Hmm…..do I really want to run to the bin and waste a few seconds?”
On the ground it went, sorry cleaners!
Feeling great at this time. Was ahead of my target pace slightly but felt manageable. Given I felt easy, my mind started to wonder:
“I think Anna will like this. I made her throw up the first time I took her out running but running is such an amazing feeling. She needs to feel that. “
“So excited Juan Juan is coming to run the Blackmore half! The course is so pretty! Hmm… need to ask Greta how to pace someone.”
15KM: “ Is the pacer running faster than it should be or am I starting to struggle? “
Everyone time I tried to close the gap between the green balloon the watch said I was running 4:45ish. Better just stay behind. It is not even half way yet.
Drinking water became a necessity. Now my shirt was drenched with water that I splashed on myself but I got better at that too. Thank god.
16KM: “ I could not put the cup down. I am too thirsty. Did I drink too much too quickly?”
Oh shit. The stitch came back. Much worse than before on the left side of my abdomen. I could not keep up with pace. I started to slow down AND feel light-headed. Last time this happened was at 18K in the Canberra half. I struggled badly after that. My pace went from 4:55 to 5:00 to 5:45.
“I still have….damn, can’t even do the math! Ok, 26K to go.”
I started to panic.
“Ok Juny, deep breath. Calm down babe calm down. Have some gels.”
Since I was slowing down and feeling I might pass out in the next few minutes, I decided to have gels now instead of at 18K as I planned. Although the sugar would not have kicked in until 20 minutes later, mentally it gave me an immediate boost. I remembered what Kerry said in the Optimum Mindset workshop and started to imagine suppressing the pain and making it leave my body. It worked a little bit. The stabbing pain now became a stabbing tightness.
“ You know what? F#@k the stitch. If I am running the rest of the race with the stitch so be it!”
That was probably the sugar talking but I picked up my pace again. It felt very painful but I wouldn’t let it beat me. I had imaginary hands wresting the stitch to push it down my legs (in my mind it was this ugly ball shaped thingy that was screaming on top of its lungs when the two metal hands closing in). That thought made me feel better.
20KM: However, I really started to struggle. Stitch was getting slightly subdued, yet every time I took a deeper breath it came back like a slap on the face. Now I was running in the full force of the sun with my face exposed to the glaring heat. I still felt light-headed. And some of my toes started to feel odd-shaped. I suspected blisters. But out of sight out of mind, for now.
I forced myself to gather some of the positives:
• My ankle did not hurt at all since the beginning of the race. Four weeks ago it was swollen to the size of two. I couldn’t even walk for days. Two weeks ago I wasn’t sure if I could race at all. Greta would be so pleased to know. She has been like a mother hen during the recovery process, watching over everything I do to get back in shape. I still remember she said “ watch your every step like a hawk”, making me laugh every time I went out for a run.
• My sunglasses really held up. I bought the new running glasses but they just felt a bit weird. I went to the shop and the assistant gave me the “Asian” nose piece. Now they were working like a dream!
• “I am getting tanned.”
• “And I am not dead, yet”
I had to rethink of my strategy here. I was not sure how long I could keep the pace, if at all. The green balloon was still in sight but getting further and further away. Should I chase it down and risk hitting the wall at 30K? Or should I slow down now so that I could keep something in the bank for later?
Maybe it was time to let my pride go and concede I could not run my first marathon in 3:30.
Before I left Sydney Greta messaged me and told me she would be proud of me no matter what. With that thought, I slowed down again.
26.5 to 30 KM: Keith told me he was going to meet me at 26.5K after he finishes the half and give me a small bottle of water. So with my revised plan, I had the third gel at 24K and hoping to have some portable liquid at 26.5K. It was also something to look forward to: seeing your friends on the course.
Surely enough, there he was with his friend, waving excitedly at me.
“But why are they wearing matching white T-shirts?”
I only realised later that was the finisher shirt for the half. Clearly my brain stopped working too.
He ran up to me and handed me a small bottle of water
“ How was your race?” I managed to squeeze a few words out of my teeth.
” I torn my calf completely but I am still running faster than you!”
“ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO SAY THAT TO SOMEONE WHO IS DYING?!!!”
I wanted to say I was sorry to hear his injury and that was a crappy motivation speech. But I could only manage a “thank you” and moved on.
My throat was itching as if volcano ash got inside. I took a sip from the water bottle. It felt great. I felt like I can survive until the next water station.
All of sudden, I heard two people screaming my name. Given how excited it sounded, it couldn’t be from someone that didn’t know me?
I turned my head and that was Louisa and Cass ! That was a surprise, both ladies ran the half this morning. I didn’t expect they would recover in time to come out on the course. I wanted to scream too but really didn’t have the energy. I waved, hoped it showed how happy I was to see them.
I had to throw out the water bottle Keith gave me as it quickly got empty. Then at the 29K mark, I saw a table with lollies and small bottles of water, which was obviously not from the race organiser. I ran over and asked:” Excuse me, do you mind if I take a bottle of water?”
“why the hell did I have to say such a long sentence?!”
Maybe the lady was thinking the same thing because she gave me a sympathetic look. “ Of course darling! Just keep going.”
As I turned the corner before the bridge. Someone jumped on the street and yelled:
“ Juny you are doing great! Keep on going girlfriend!”
Of course that was no one other than the dynamic duo Pip and Deb. I laughed as Pip jumping up and down and chased me like a paparazzi. She took several pictures. Apparently she posted one of them straight away and said I was “going strong at 30K”.
I wasn’t. But I found myself beaming as I got on the bridge. Warmth filled my heart after seeing my friends. I vowed to not let them down.
30-35KM: I slowed down even further. It was a blow to my self-esteem given I was averaging 4:56 for 35K during my last big training run. But it was cooler in Sydney, I was stopping more frequently and I had not really been running that much for the last month due to my injury.
Before the race Keith and I had countless discussion about my target time. I ran the Canberra half at 1:36 and I had been training like a machine since the beginning of this year. In my mind I could easily run into 3:30. But Keith, being a much more seasoned marathoner, had reservations:
“Respect the distance, especially because you have never run the full course.” he said, “ You don’t know what is going to happen.”
Now I finally knew what that meant.
I stopped looking at my watch, I ran at whatever pace I could hold onto. I took another gel just after 30K. I felt like a zombie right now. My motivation at the moment was to run to the next drink station. The little water bottle the lady gave me became my lifeline between those stations. I would unscrew the top before I got into the drink station, took 10 seconds to fill it up and grab another cup at the end of the table. I would slowly drink the cup and keep the water bottle for sipping. I no longer care if I got another stitch. Probably wouldn’t feel it much since everywhere else was aching so much.
I saw Lisa again. I ran to her and said “We can do this Lisa!”
“ Go for it Juny.” She said.
With that words I slightly picked up my pace and went ahead.
35-40KM: I had my last gel just after 35. I had never taken more than 4 before but today I felt 5 was appropriate. I was surprised I needed so badly just after 16K. Not sure if it is because I didn’t do much carb loading. Luckily the light-headed feeling disappeared after the second gel.
After 35K I was officially running into the distance I had never covered before. I was in good spirit, even started teasing myself:
“Even if you quit at this point, you will still run the longest ever distance!” “ Not in a million years…”
Then I started to get distracted by another matter: the green Love Mercy top is a bit too long, it was normally held up by the waist bag I carried for the gels. With the bag empty, the top was free falling and completely covered my shorts.
Now I looked like I was running without any pants on.
It was, what we would call, “ the first world problem”. But as a vain person that really bothered me. I tried to adjust the belt and tuck the shirt under. It did not work at all. Lucky I was so slow at that time it didn’t really affect my speed. Just while I was yelling at myself “ Who the fuck cares what you look like NOW?!!!”, something else happened:
Out of the blue, my legs literally turned into stones. I was horrified to feel how painful it was to lift them. People around me started walking. A guy wobbled so much I thought he was going to fall face down on the ground at any second. Walking seemed to be a good idea right now.
However, the little dragon lady inside me was ignited again as soon as “walking” flashed cross my mind:
“TO HELL I AM GOING TO WALK THE LAST TWO K! I don’t care if I ran 6 minutes or 7 minutes pace I am RUNNING cross the finishing line!”
Fine. So I continued, trying to just put one step ahead of another. Straighten my back. Stop my upper body swinging too much. At one point I also tried to manually count my cadence to distract myself, but soon realized I had to count at least 180*15 times so I gave up. And being someone who is really good with numbers, I could not even figure out how much that was. My head was a mess. I only knew one thing: keep running.
Well, more like shuffling at this stage.
To the finishing line:
I looked my watch after 41K mark, it was just over 3:31. Since my A goal was kissed goodbye long time ago, I wanted to at least meet my B goal: qualifying for the Boston Marathon. At my age group, the time is 3:40.
With that in mind, I was able to move those legs which felt they weight 100 kilos each. I have 9 minutes to run a distance that would normally take me to run in just a bit over 5.
“ I can do this. I WILL qualify for Boston.”
“ And the girls are going to have hot pot on Friday, yeah!” Don’t judge me, I DO get motivation from food, like, a lot.
Gold Coast was known for the huge crowd support. I was so impressed there were people cheering the runners everywhere on this 42K course.
The last kilometer however was like nothing before. Layers of people were standing by the fence, clapping and calling my name. I felt like a rock star showing up in a stadium full of my fans.
“ Good girl Juny!”
“Juny you are almost there!”
“ Juny you are amazing!”
I started to cry again. I could not stop it this time and felt like NOW I had every right to do so.
I turned corner, the banner crossed the blown up gate said “ You only have 250 meters to go!”
250 meters between me and the medal.
Then I saw the clock ticking 3:39:30. I know I was going to make it anyway because that was the gun time and I started a minute or so later. However, I could not let the clock go over 3:40 on my watch.
The last bit of strength in me exploded. I heard nothing and I saw no one. The clock was the only thing I cared. I sprinted towards the finishing line. In my mind I must have dashed like a lightning bolt. When I saw the play-back, well, I was running in, shall we say, moderate speed. That’s all I had, and it didn’t matter.
3:39:53. The net time was 3:38:45.
I was sobbing so hard. I was glad I wore my black sunglasses so no one could see this. When I picked up my medal and shirt, I couldn’t even say “thank you “properly. The lady patted me on my shoulder:” You finished it sweetie, congratulations!”
I did. I am now a marathoner. I thought I would be disappointed I finished almost 9 minutes slower than my target time. But I didn’t, not even a bit.
Being a marathoner was a dream that seemed out of reach at times. I started to pursuit it because I knew my life would be incomplete without it. Even if it didn’t turn out exactly as I hoped, I knew I tried my best.
I held nothing back and will leave nothing behind.
I guess that is why people say running a marathon changes your life.
So when is the next race?